Talking Sports with Ellen Hyslop of The Gist

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The Toronto–based cofounder of the women–led sports media brand gives us the lowdown on the hottest tickets and destinations.

enRoute When you co–founded The Gist in 2019, the sports industry was a boys’ club: Less than four percent of traditional media coverage was on women’s sports, and 14 percent of sports journalists were women. How have things changed?

Ellen Hyslop Fortunately, there has been a lot of change. We’re proud to have been part of that change, or at least to have encouraged people to think about how things have changed. There was a study published by Wasserman and RBC at the end of 2023 that showed that there has been a significant increase in coverage of women’s sports. In traditional media, that number now ranges between five to seven percent and goes all the way up to 15 percent when you include digital media. The democratization of digital and social media has allowed women’s sports to thrive, because it’s provided space for companies like ours. With respect to sports journalists, unfortunately, figures are still between 14 to 18 percent for female and non–binary journalists.

July 5, 2024
The podcast art for The Gist with Ellen Hyslop

ER Ninety–four percent of women who hold C–suite positions played sports – and you’re one of them. What does this stat mean to you?

EH It comes down to all the benefits sports provide. Sports drive self–esteem and social acumen: You pick up important skills and learn the right time to lead, the right time to follow and how to support your team. It’s layered in with performance as well. Most of the time there’s a goal in sports, whether it’s to win a race or a game. When you pair the performance and the competitive side of things with teamwork, camaraderie and other skills, you have a lethal combination.

The Canadian Women & Sport group has an awesome article on all the different factors that lead to women becoming great leaders after they play sports.

ER From the NCAA March Madness frenzy to the PWHL breaking numerous attendance records, there’s no question this was a momentous year for women’s sports. If you could put your finger on a turning point, what would it be?

EH I think back to 2020 and Covid. The pandemic led to broader conversations within our society with respect to Black Lives Matter and reevaluating the way things were. It all came back to equality, and that had a trickledown effect in the women’s sports ecosystem.

At the same time, two key things happened in sports. The first was that the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S. held the first edition of the Challenge Cup, and they were the first league to enter into the Covid era of sports. They really set the precedent, and because they were first, so many sports fans who were thirsty to watch sports again tuned in and were able to see the amazing product on the field. Beforehand, they may not have given the league a second thought.

The second was the WNBA and NBA bubble seasons. The WNBA’s season was called the Wubble, which I thought was amazing. The Wubble was fantastic. It was some of the best basketball I’ve ever watched – I look back on it so fondly. Again, people were thirsty to watch sports and the Wubble was an opportunity to watch basketball. But the WNBA also came to the forefront of the conversation from a cultural perspective because of their leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement. People started paying attention to the WNBA as a league that forced change on and off the court.

ER Let’s get to “the gist” of it: Stats are the currency of the sports world. What’s the most impressive women’s sports stat you’ve come across recently?

EH My favourite stat as of late is the ticket price for women’s March Madness Final Four is three times the price of men’s March Madness. It’s a trend indicative of the popularity of the sport and an example of why women’s college hoops should be played in larger arenas.

ER Despite these huge advances, there’s still a lot of catching up to do in terms of equal pay and equal coverage, to name a couple things. What most urgently needs to change?

EH Unfortunately, women’s sports are a reflection of society at large, and we’ve all seen how, in the corporate world, men are hired or promoted based on potential, and women are hired and promoted based on their resumé. The same thing has been happening in women’s sports. When you think about investment in the ecosystem and female athletes, there is a lot of pressure to turn around profit or have viewership skyrocket immediately.

By comparison, there’s a lot more leeway for men’s leagues. It took a long time for the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB to get to the place they are in today. We need to think about women’s sports as being in a startup and scale–up ecosystem and we need to invest in them the same way we invest in men’s sports and men’s founders. You have to put water in a flowerpot for the flower to grow. It’s the same with women’s sports.

ER Let’s put some women’s sports destinations on the map. Where can we get in on the action?

EH I’ve got to say Portland because of the Sports Bra, the first women’s sports bar. Portland is such a hub for women’s sports, especially because of the Portland Thorns FC NWSL team. Another hub is Seattle. A lot of that is because of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. They don’t have an NBA equivalent, so the Storm is Seattle’s team. It’s so cool to see everyone around there wearing Kia Nurse or Sue Bird jerseys.

In Toronto, there’s Peaches Sports Bar. It’s an LGBTQA+ bar that really focuses on airing women’s sports in a safe and inclusive place. I’d definitely recommend visiting to watch a few games.

California is a big place for women’s soccer, with San Diego in particular being home to the San Diego Wave FC and their expansion team. There’s also Kansas City, home of the Kansas City Current and the first–ever stadium made for women’s sports in North America.

Ellen Hyslop takes a photo with two other women in the stands at a tennis match

ER What’s the hottest ticket in women’s sports?

EH I still think it’s the US Open Tennis Championships finals. The NCAA March Madness final is up there too, but there’s something about the Grand Slam, tennis and New York that makes it feel like the biggest event.

When the Gist was incubated in Philidelphia with Comcast NBCUniversal and Techstars, we were only a bus ride away. We were in New York one day for training and lessons, and it was the same year that Bianca Andreescu won the US Open. We got tickets to the finals and saw Bianca play Serena Williams. It was probably one of the best sporting moments I’ve ever experienced.

ER Paris 2024 will be the first Games with gender parity. Which women’s events will you be watching?

EH I am obsessed with soccer, so I will be watching the Canadian women’s national team like a hawk. I’m also really looking forward to swimming. The Canadian women will show out.

Ellen Hyslop sitting on a stool holding a miniature soccer and basketball and a baseball

The Questionnaire

  • Window or aisle I used to choose the window seat, but now I’d say aisle seat.

  • Dream seatmate Serena Williams

  • Favourite souvenir I went to India in 2017 and did a painting exercise with a vendor who had a corner stall in a market. He taught us how to draw a beautiful elephant on the back of an old postcard. It’s a really nice souvenir that I keep on my mantle.

  • Travel hack Travelling with just a carry–on is my brand. I always make sure that I have the right purse–to–carry–on ratio. Depending on where I’m going, if the roads are likely to be cobblestoned or bumpy, I’ll bring a travel backpack. If it’s a quick business trip, I’ll bring my suitcase with wheels.